How I became a successful freelancer. 7 rules you should read before starting a freelancing career

If you’re thinking about becoming a freelancer, then this is for you

How to become a successful freelancer

As you probably know, I used to work as a Pastry chef at Zuma London throughout the last year. And even though it was one of the hardest experience of my life, I enjoyed it and I learned tons about cooking and more specifically about the Izakaya Japanese cuisine. And learning such interesting things is what kept me going 60 hours a week in the kitchen.

But after a while, I learned mostly everything in the restaurant and I hit a plateau. I felt that I needed more and this feeling is quite normal for chefs. A lot of us feel the need for a change after 1-2 years in a restaurant. So I decided it’s time for a different adventure and got a job at Ottolenghi. This small, chic restaurant in Notting Hill, was quite different from Zuma and I felt like I had a lot of interesting stuff to learn from them.

But after just a short trial I heard about the freelancing websites, Freelancer, Freelance and Upwork. These are websites where people find work based on their skills and what sounded most interesting to me was that you can work from home. That really seemed great, because I am not a huge fan of taking the underground at rush hours 🙂 .

It sounded like the perfect place to work, except there was one HUGE problem. How can a chef, that earns his living by cooking in a kitchen, sell his skills online? I doubt any restaurant would want to hire a remote chef.
But the idea of working from the comfort of my home seemed really appealing so I was determined to find a way to become a freelancer.

How to become a successful freelancer

So I started by making a list of my skills. Luckily, within the last 7 months, I acquired a lot of them from managing my blog, that you are reading now. ( Thanks for that 🙂 ) Some of them were content creating, photography, photo editing in Lightroom and cooking of course. I was already creating recipes and taking photos for my blog, but until that moment I never thought of them as skills that can pay the bills.

I honestly had a few doubts about finding jobs online (since my line of work had nothing to do with online). But surprisingly, there were lots of them for all of my skills.

Now I am actually turning down work because I have my plate full. And from my experience, I learned a few things which I will share with you. I think they will be of great help if you decide to become a freelancer.

1. Find what your skill is and find a way to take it online.

You might be tempted to think that your job can’t possibly work online. That’s what I thought at first. But think again. Lots of jobs can be done online nowadays, especially with the help of software. Also, your hobby can become a skill that pays the bills. In my case, it was photography. Surprisingly, the things I never thought as money-making skills are what made me a freelancer food stylist.

And if you think about pursuing the same path, I’ve got a few tips for you:

  1. The first and most important is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. I can't stress that enough. The more you shoot, the better you'll get.
    Always try new things. Don't be afraid to look for inspiration from other food stylists, even if your photos will sometimes look a bit similar. They will get better in time and you will develop your own original style.
  2. Experiment with shooting from all possible angles. You will be amazed how different food and texture look when changing angles.
  3. Don't buy the most expensive gear right from the start. Learn the camera's functions first, practice, make your mistakes (there's going to be loads of them in the beginning) and only then start spending money on premium gear.

2. When you’re just starting, don’t sell yourself short but don’t ask too much either

This is quite a dilemma for most beginning freelancers. Especially for those like me that used to work for a fixed salary.
I thought: ‘I know my work is top quality but if I ask a high price, nobody would hire me because I am a beginner. If I ask a low price I will end up doing top work for pennies’. And I kinda didn’t want to accept anything lower than what I was making as a chef.

But when you don’t know how to price your product or skill, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Simple. Just take a peek at the competition. And that’s what I did. The only problem was that the competition had hundreds of good reviews so they could afford to ask a high price. I had none.

So I asked slightly less than others until I got a few good reviews and people started trusting me. Then I raised my hourly charge in accordance with the quality of work I do.

3. Communication is key. All clients value communication with the freelancer. You need to be fast, and clear.

That said, you must speak English to properly understand your client’s requirements. Also, you need to answer fast. Don’t leave him waiting too long as he can always look for another freelancer and leave you a bad review.

4. NEVER ASK for payments outside the freelancing platforms.

I am going to tell you about a bad experience I had with Upwork, which I believe is unfair and I hope you will avoid it.

So I was writing recipes and taking photos for a client and the job was posted on Upwork. When I negotiated the price with him, we spoke through the platform’s messaging service and I told them my hourly price, which had to be paid through Upwork. But I also told them to pay for the cost of the ingredients outside the platform, as I found it unfair to charge them Upwork’s fees and VAT for that.

The next day we both had our accounts suspended forever, without the right for an appeal and without them answering to any of our complaints. Just like that, my hard work of building a solid profile and feedback was gone. Not giving the right for some sort of appeal or a more thorough look at the case is in my opinion unfair for both freelancers and employers. Hopefully, they will do something about that in the future.

So pay attention when communicating with clients through Upwork, because they probably scan messages for certain words and suspend accounts automatically and even if you’re right. And nobody will listen to anything you say afterward.

5. Deliver on time and don’t bite more than you can chew.

Once you found that skill and started bidding for jobs as a Freelancer, you will find that a lot of people will want to work with you. And you’ll think: ‘Hmm, more clients more money’. While that may be true, a day only has 24 hours out of which we sleep about 8. That said, I think it’s wise to take as many clients as you can fit into 10 hours of work, without delaying jobs.

If you start missing deadlines, employers won’t be happy and then you will have fewer clients, less money 🙂
Personally, I currently work with only three employers and I turn down other jobs because I wouldn’t want to miss any deadline.

6. Consider investing in a website.

Think about a website as your portfolio, business card and resume all wrapped in one. I ‘bragged’ with mine in my profile page without actually thinking about its effect, but a lot of employers actually saw it and contacted me because they liked my work.
They didn’t even care that I had no reviews.

7. Don’t get too relaxed and be disciplined.

Working from home is comfy, but it can pose a danger. And that is getting too relaxed in the comfort of your home. It’s easy to say ‘Hey, I can wake up an hour later today, I work from home and I manage my own time’.

It’s also easy to lose focus and procrastinate, or start facebooking more than doing real work, just because at home you are your own boss.

My advice, treat it like any other job. Get up early just as you did before and start working. Be disciplined, by setting up a working schedule and do everything else after you finish your tasks for the day.

Don’t think that if you’re a freelancer, you can travel to exotic places and work at the same time. A holiday is a holiday. Your mind will never stay focused to work when you lay on the beach next to a Mojito.

Finally, those were my top 7 rules that starting freelancers should consider. It’s an ongoing process for me and I will update this post constantly with all the challenges I will face, in the hopes of helping other people become better freelancers.

What are your freelancing tips?

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  1. says: Usha

    Thanks for the post. I am considering becoming a freelancer and had no clue where to start. This post is informative and thanks a lot for doing it.